Monday, March 15, 2010

Saratoga's racing and bathing

Saratoga Springs, home of mineral springs and a famous racetrack, lends itself to two activities that couldn't be more opposite if they tried. Soaking in a mineral bath at the Saratoga Spa State Park, as I did yesterday, is the epitome of calm and relaxation. Add the "Almost Heaven" scented bath oil and you're there. What a contrast to the hustle and bustle of the racing scene, pounding thoroughbreds on the track and scheming wiseguys all around. I love the idea that for nearly 200 years people have been taking the train to Saratoga to take part in this peculiar intersection of fast and not. If racing is Saratoga's heart, its "Gut," according to the local signs, was a Jewish community that lived on the street parallel to Broadway, the city's Main Street. That neighborhood's independent spirit added another layer of complexity to the local system, creating a door for alternate cultures that is filled these days by peace activitists, coffee shops and folks singers, and a vital farmers market. Saratoga, with its Diamond Jim Brady Plaza and Olmsted Park, is a quirky mixture of cultural threads, defying easy categorization and oversimplification. I hope New York State straightens out its racing crisis so that the season and the city can continue to be this enjoyable yin/yang place.

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